Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards Final Score: John Wall Dominates At Home, 91-78


Long before John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal, and Dion Waiters, there was a different lineup that squared off against one another with nothing but dislike in their eyes. These games took place so long ago that Brendan Haywood was A) on the Washington Wizards and B) actually a meaningful NBA player. This was so far back in history that LeBron James hadn’t yet joined the first of his two carefully constructed superteams.

Nearly seven years, after the Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers wrapped up their third straight playoff contest, the teams faced off again for the first time since then in an important context. Washington ultimately came out on top, stifling the potent Cleveland offense to the tune of a 91-78 victory.

While the Verizon Center faithful experienced their first taste this season of playoff atmosphere basketball, only one team came prepared to engage in battle worthy of the postseason. The Wizards rebounded from a tough loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday while the Cavaliers lost their third straight game, wishing they could revert back to the days of HandshakeGate if it meant winning basketball games again.

The rivalry regained significance on an unsuspecting weekend in July. On Friday, James announced that he was returning home to Cleveland. The following day, arch nemesis Paul Pierce signed to play in Washington. Since then, November 21st was circled on every player’s calendar as the game to decide the better backcourt, the more improved team, and the next chapter in a fierce 2000’s rivalry.

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Nothing will be decided in a trivial November matchup, but tonight Washington showed why it refuses to back down from any team named as a member of the East’s elite. The defense was incredible for 48 minutes, something the Wizards have lacked in previous games. The offense went through its share of stagnant periods (only 11 total points in the 4th quarter) but featured a balanced effort from the starters and bench players alike.

Even the embattled Randy Wittman outcoached the mysterious David Blatt, quickly realizing that the Garrett Temple experiment was ending, while also riding the hot hand by playing normally terrible Kevin Seraphin over the reliable Marcin Gortat.

The victory improved the Wizards to 8-3, with a date in Milwaukee vs. an upstart Bucks team tomorrow. Despite the back-to-back on the schedule, this was not a game to overlook for any reason. With a sellout crowd on hand and ESPN coverage descending on the city, Washington jumped out to early leads and ultimately put the game out of reach in the 2nd half.

John Wall, who never shies away from big moments, contributed with an incredible 28 point, 7 assist, 6 rebound, 4 steal performance. His 17 points in the 3rd quarter was the stamp on a postage he’d been meaning to send since the NBA schedule was unveiled. And Bradley Beal continued his impressive comeback tour with a tidy 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a game high +24 on the court.

The debate between the respective backcourts was simply not worth measuring. Kyrie Irving contributed 22 points, but just 2 assists and went 0 for 6 from 3 point range. Dion Waiters chipped in with 2 points on 1-7 shooting while proving that buckets really don’t lie. Ultimately it was a complete takedown of the NBA’s Next Big Thing by a team that thought they were in line for that title. The Wizards may not be the most talented team in the Eastern Conference but tonight proved they were determined to be one of the hardest working ones.

Detailed observations from tonight’s game:

•Wall was obviously dominant in most phases of the game. What was most encouraging was the fact that he stayed aggressive against a clearly overmatched defense. Without a legitimate perimeter defender and no interior defense to speak of, Wall attacked the paint and when defenders wisely backed off, he drained jumpers with ease.

•Beal continues to impress in his maturity as a third-year player. What used to be drives to the basket that ended in vicious rejections have turned into layups from a player who has learned how to use his body to his advantage. The one constant throughout Beal’s career has been a pure shooting stroke. The rest of his game is starting to develop around that.

•Nene has not had a strong year shooting the ball, or in general on the offensive end. However, his defense has been completely invaluable to the Wizards’ success. He played a key role in holding Kevin Love to his worst game as a Cavalier and even bothered LeBron James on multiple drives to the basket. Nene’s low post passing remains instrumental to the team and the hope is that increased opportunities will knock that field goal percentage up a few notches.

•Kevin Seraphin has built a permanent residence in the doghouse of Wizards fans. He is so entrenched in that spot that he realized that making a down payment and paying mortgage was more financially prudent than monthly rent. That being said, he redeemed himself to an extent tonight, with a fantastic array of hook shots, blocks, and boards. It’ll be critical to see if he can turn this into anything consistent.

•The Cavaliers are in trouble. 2010-11 Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh are light years ahead of 2014-15 Irving and Love. Even James may be on the slight decline. Overall the talent is in place to be the class of the East but it will not come easy.